The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

by Corinne May Botz | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 1580931456 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/28/2004
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
5 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Another of many lovely books that I received for Christmas. This is one of those books that I coveted for the concept alone ever since I first heard about it; it's also the only book I know of that has on its copyright page the categories both "doll houses" and "crime scenes". Yep - it's a book of carefully scaled-down replicas of actual crime scenes. These were commissioned in the '40s and '50s by Frances Glessner Lee as a training tool for detectives, and many of them are still in use today; the collection is currently housed in the Baltimore Medical Examiner's Office. While I'd read a line or two about them I had never seen pictures before... The book includes a biography of Lee and other background information in addition to the photographs and case histories of the crime scene replicas themselves, and looks thoroughly fascinating. [Even the end-papers are special: a black-on-black pattern of tiny pistols, poison bottles, blunt instruments... I wonder if I could get a shirt made up in this pattern?]

I expect I'll be keeping this one; it's just so - so me! {grin} But I might consider a bookring if people are interested (and promise to be careful with the book!).

[I've been interested in the gory details for quite a long time. Some years back my sister made a lovely little crime scene diorama for me, based loosely on the bathroom from "Psycho"; check out the journal-entry photos for my own Nutshell Study! This one shows the whole room; the next one focuses more on the bloodstains.]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, December 30, 2004
[Here's a closer look at the bloodstains and footprints from the "Psycho" shower-scene diorama my sister made for me; see the previous entry for a view of the whole room.]

"Frances Glessner Lee was a brilliant, witty, shy, intimidating, and, by some accounts, impossible woman. She gave what she thought you should have, rather than what you might actually want. She had a wonderful sense of humor about everything and everyone, excluding herself. The police adored and regarded her as their 'patron saint,' her family was more reticent about applauding her, and her hired help was 'scared to death of her.'"

So begins Corinne May Botz' biography of Frances Glessner Lee, the woman who created the Nutshell Studies (and also used her personal wealth to underwrite a salary for a professor of legal medicine at Harvard in 1931, "thus beginning a personal mission to improve crime detection in the United States." She was 53 at the time - another candidate for the "late bloomer" club?

Botz goes into some detail in describing Lee's life, and offers some interesting suggestions about Lee's views of life and how that may have affected her choice of crime scenes. (The repression and/or victimization of women features largely in the scenes, but whether that's because it echoes statistical fact or because Lee was trying to make a point wasn't clear to me; Botz, on the other hand, is persuaded that, consciously or otherwise, Lee was indeed making a point.) I do think that Botz may have gone a bit overboard, as in this supposition:

"...Lee single-handedly created the miniature corpses, and this was her main role in making the models... Why did she insist on making the miniature dolls herself? What did she think about when she knit the tiny stockings and executed the dolls? I think Lee's creation of mutilated female bodies reflected her own ambivalence about her sexuality and her repressed hatred of Woman. The disturbing female corpses also help us to understand the complex relationship women had to their bodies in a repressive culture where they were raised not to know anything about their bodies, and the female sex was continually held responsible for murder."

Ooookay. Maybe she's right; the culture could certainly be repressive, and Lee apparently felt thwarted through most of her life because she did not have access to the educational or professional opportunities that men did. But given the things she accomplished in her life I can't quite see her sitting there knitting the tiny doll clothes while muttering doom and gloom in her head; I'd be more inclined to answer Botz' question about "why" with the response "she was a perfectionist and thought the victims were the most important part of the scene" - or something along those lines. [She did apparently put just as much effort and detail into the male victims as the female ones, FWIW.]

The biographical - and editorial! - section takes up the first 40 pages or so of the book; after that we turn to the Nutshell Studies themselves, each presented with several photographs (which, frustratingly, show some but not all of each scene), a brief summary of witnesses and statements about the discovery of the body, and a graphic with footnotes to point out specific clues or to provide some history about a particular item. Whether viewing each picture as a museum piece or as part of a crime puzzle, it's fascinating; the miniatures are exquisite, from faded bits of linoleum floor to half-empty liquor bottles. The little latches on the doors work, the lights turn on, the stack of old letters in someone's attic are all hand-written and legible. (Some of the notes mention this detail work, as in a scene set in a barn, where an ox-yoke was painted with traditional ox-yoke paint and then dragged around to properly age it!) Each crime scene includes a body; the signs of violence are sometimes obvious (in a multiple-victim shotgun murder there's blood spatter on the walls and bloody tracks on the floor - I could almost hear the crime techs calling for the Luminol) and sometimes non-apparent (victim lying quietly in bed, only recently deceased). Most of the bodies were found soon after death, but a couple were found later and show significant post mortem changes; imagining Lee painting the dark stains on the bisque porcelain faces of the dolls makes for an interesting picture indeed...

There are a couple of frustrating aspects to the book. First, as I mentioned, the pictures do not show every aspect of every miniature, and some of the bits that are pictured are out of focus at the edge of the frame; this made me simply wild at times, but has the (possibly intentional) result of making me want to go to Baltimore and see the actual scenes in person.

Perhaps more frustrating: Most of the studies do not include anything approaching a solution; we never find out whether Miss Jessie Comptom hanged herself or was hanged, and what all those old letters had to do with it. At the end of the book five of the miniatures that are no longer being used in criminology training are "solved," with some interesting twists that would look right at home on an episode of "C.S.I.", but all the rest of them are left - if you'll pardon the expression - hanging.]

Frustrations notwithstanding, this is a fascinating book about a unique crime-scene tutorial / museum piece, and I'd recommend it to fans of miniatures and/or forensics.

Journal Entry 3 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, December 30, 2004
A Google search turned up the Bellwether Gallery site, which includes a page on Corinne Botz and has many of her photos of the Nutshell Studies online. Take a look!

Journal Entry 4 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Wednesday, February 09, 2005
I'm sending this out on a bookring.

Bookray/ring instructions:

When you receive the book, please journal it, and PM the next person in line for their address so you'll have it ready when you've finished the book.
Note: even if you've sent books to that person before, please PM them before mailing this one, to confirm that the address is correct and that they're able to take on a bookring book at this time.
Try and read the book promptly - ideally, within a month of receiving it. (If you expect to take longer, you can request to be put at the end of the list. If you find you're swamped with other books when the person before you contacts you about the bookring, you can ask to be skipped, and then let me know whether you'd like to be moved down the list or dropped entirely. If you receive the book and find it's taking longer than you'd planned to get through it, I'd appreciate an update in its journal entries or on your profile, just to let me and the other participants know you haven't forgotten it.)

When you're ready to pass the book along, please make another journal entry containing your comments about the book and stating where you've sent it, and set the book's status code to "traveling". [If you find that you're having problems contacting the next person in line, or don't think you can manage to mail the book as originally agreed, please let me know; I'll be glad to try to work something out.]


Participants, in mailing order:

sqdancer [Canada]
echesketch [VA]
fungirl503 [OR]
BelleMorte [AL]
Darkangll [FL]
icekween01 [MO]
gothamgal [OH]
Lpree [MD] (has moved - be sure to verify address)
MollyGrue [WA]
spaceystacey [NJ]

...and back to GoryDetails [NH]

Journal Entry 5 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Controlled release:

The book's on its way to sqdancer in Canada, to kick off the bookring. Hope you enjoy it!

Journal Entry 6 by sqdancer on Saturday, February 26, 2005
It's here! The packaging was a little the worse for wear, but the book seems fine except for a couple of very mildly smooshed corners.

I just received another ring, but I am so tempted to read this one first. It looks fascinating. Oh well, this can be my "nightstand book" and the other will be my "purse book". I should have no trouble finishing this within a month.

Thank you so much for sharing!!

Journal Entry 7 by sqdancer on Thursday, March 31, 2005
Oops! Sorry, I thought I had journalled this book earlier in the week.

Gory makes such detailed journal entries that there is nothing left to add :) I do agree about the photographs - they may be artistic, but they leave me wanting more. Oh well, yet another addition to the list of places to visit one day.

I do believe that this is the only book I've ever seen with the "cover blurb" on the spine.

Thank you very much Gory for sharing this very cool book with us.

Mailed to echesketch on Tuesday, March 29, via Expedited Parcel service with Delivery Confirmation Number CX 053 295 094 CA

Journal Entry 8 by echesketch from Lincolnton, North Carolina USA on Saturday, April 09, 2005
Received the book on 4/7/05 and can't wait to begin diving into it over the weekend! I won't keep it long.

Journal Entry 9 by echesketch from Lincolnton, North Carolina USA on Sunday, April 24, 2005
Finished the book and sent it on to Fungirl503 on 4/23/05. Wow, what a great read with lots of pics!

Thanks for sharing, GoryDetails!

Journal Entry 10 by fungirl503 from Portland, Oregon USA on Wednesday, May 04, 2005
got this book in the mail yesterday. I love the way the book was wrapped to keep it in good condition. I love the story got it all done in one day...thank you for letting me check this book out.

Released 16 yrs ago (5/4/2005 UTC) at Another Bookcrosser in -- Mail, by hand, rings, RABCks etc, Oregon USA



I am sending this to bellemorte

Journal Entry 12 by BelleMorte from Tuscaloosa, Alabama USA on Wednesday, July 06, 2005
got it yesterday. so sry it took so long to journal! will read asap... looks really interesting


Journal Entry 13 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, June 15, 2006
Sadly, almost a year after the book reached BelleMorte and with no response to my PMs, I fear this bookring is stalled. Hope to hear from it eventually...

Update, Sept. 2008: I just discovered that BelleMorte returned to BC as Naillik some time last year, explaining a little about the problems that interrupted her participation in BC. That shelf includes new JEs for a lot of the books she'd received from other BCers, but not, alas, this one, so I don't know what happened to it. BelleMorte/Naillik, if you come across the book, I'd appreciate hearing from you!

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